Richard Murray: Family can often be the root of all the problems

Richard Murray
Richard Murray
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The work of private client solicitors can be varied but they must always act sensitively in a tricky situation, writes Richard Murray

It is often said that there is” nowt stranger than family”. Never a truer word has been said.

The role of a private client solicitor can be varied, interesting, demanding, stressful and that’s all before lunchtime on Monday! If something is to go wrong within a family model, odds are it will happen over the weekend. That’s life. The experience gained, though, is invaluable, and worth sharing with fellow professionals.

The role of a private client practitioner often extends beyond legal support. Knowing your client, and the wider family, is essential – how can an adviser give effective “advice” if there is no real understanding of what drives their client, what causes them concern, what makes them feel safe and secure. Taking the time to get to know a client is invaluable and the strong relationship that will follow will make the effort feel worthwhile. It’s also important to be aware of everything that could assist your client and how other advisers can play a part in that.

That’s one of the reasons I’m gathering with fellow lawyers and other intermediaries in the east of Scotland for a special personal legal services conference at Dalhousie Castle next month, hosted by Harper Macleod.

Whether it’s new rules on succession, pensions, taxation, land reform or anything else, it’s essential professional advisers understand what we can each bring to the table to give clients a comprehensive understanding of how the law applies to their situation and what needs to be done for them to feel reassured about the way forward.

While some things change, no doubt we’ll spend time discussing the recurring areas where discontent is found bubbling away – the terms of mum and dad’s testamentary arrangements and who should be given responsibility for their financial and welfare affairs.

As one of five bairns, I’ve had a lifetime of plusses and minuses when I think about my own sibling relationships. There has been the odd cross word shared but looking beyond the moment is always the best policy. Sometimes, though, the family model is just so damaged that there is no fixing what has gone before. The root of all evil does turn out to be money!

A Will and a Power of Attorney are probably the two most important documents a person will ever sign in their lifetime. For that reason there must be absolute certainty in the choice of Executor(s) and Attorney(s), as appropriate. The appointment of a son or daughter in preference to another child could have a divisive outcome if there have been issues between siblings.

Two-thirds of all Scots still die without making a will. Poor health and old age is also foreseeable and Powers of Attorney can alleviate the financial and health issues that come forth from that.

You can never please everyone. To avoid family issues, where somebody is considering the appointment of an Executor or Attorney, it is often appropriate to simply bypass family members and appoint instead a professional adviser to take on one or both roles.

If there are tensions between close family members, taking the often difficult choice not to involve them in later life planning is more often than not the right thing to do. That’s where solicitors come in. We can provide sound, clutter-free advice.

Richard Murray is a Partner, Private Client team, Harper Macleod LLP